Over the weekend more than 70,000 people signed a Change.org petition against the last-minute reduction in support, and nearly 3,000 providers and parents have written to their local MP on this issue.
Nursery World understands that sector representatives met with the Department for Education this morning to urgently discuss the situation.
Nurseries that have stayed open for key workers fear they may now have to close after the Government’s U-turn over paying for early years staff furloughed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
The news comes as businesses around the country start to submit claims to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) through the Government portal, which opens today, for the Government to pay the staff they have had to put on temporary paid leave (furlough) because of the coronavirus crisis.
Under the scheme, businesses are able to claim up to £2,500 a month towards staff wages, but as we revealed on Friday, the Government has backtracked on the amount of financial support that early years providers can access from both the CJRS and 'free' entitlement funding.
Guidance for early years settings released on 24 March had stated that childcare providers would be able to furlough staff under the scheme, and the Government would pay 80 per cent of employee wages.
The Government has asked early years providers to stay open for key workers and many have done so, on the basis that they would continue to receive early education entitlement funding and that staff could be furloughed.
But in new guidance released on Friday evening ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): financial support for education, early years and children’s social care’, the Department for Education gives instances where an early years provider will not be able to furlough staff or will only be able to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) ‘to cover up to the proportion of its paybill which could be considered to have been paid from that provider’s private income’.
The Government’s argument is that by paying nurseries free entitlement funding and staff wages through the furlough scheme, early years providers could be receiving double-funding.
The move follows weeks of uncertainty in the early years sector about possible contradictions between the DfE early years sector guidance, which clearly stated that providers could access both schemes, without giving any restrictions, and the Treasury guidance on the CJRS.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour this morning, the Early Years Alliance said that many nurseries will have already furloughed workers based on the guidance published four weeks ago, and that the Government’s rationale in the new guidance published on Friday (17 April) was flawed.
Shannon Pite, public affairs director at the Alliance, said, ’The problem is it’s completely flawed, because childcare providers use early entitlement funding for much more than staff costs, for rents and mortgage, for insurance and utilities, so what the Government’s done is at the very last minute applied a very overly simplistic calculation that is dramatically affecting the amount of support that providers can get at a very difficult time.’
She added that the Alliance had been ‘deluged with emails and concerns’ over the weekend, with providers facing ‘unbearable stress’, including the manager of five outstanding nurseries, which have been remaining open for critical workers and providing additional free childcare for extra NHS workers
The nursery had based budgeting on the original guidance, and now has 40 workers' jobs at risk.
‘The Government seems to have forgotten in all of this that nurseries will have to remain sustainable,' she said.
‘They just want what the Government has promised everyone else, which is to do what is needed to get us through this time and to keep running once this is over.’
Liz Bayram, chief executive at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) said the Government’s back-tracking meant that any childcare provider that employed staff and delivered funded early education places was ‘now between a rock and a hard place'.
‘Most nurseries, pre-schools as well as childminders who employ assistants, should today be starting their first application for the CVJR [Coronavirus Job Retention] scheme, hopeful that the cash they need to survive will arrive imminently, 'she said.
'Instead they are now faced with having to revisit the decisions they have made on furlough, complex calculations of the proportion of staff delivering early education places and more worry at an already difficult time. Most providers deliver early education places to families in a flexible way across any given week, using a variety of different staff and approaches.
'It will be no small challenge to now try to work out which staff should be furloughed and who retained. All made worse if they are also asking some of their team to risk ill health to stay open for vulnerable children and those of key workers.
‘It is beyond disappointing that what essentially is a compromise between DfE and HM Treasury has left so many providers in this situation.’
- More on this story from Sue Poole, nursery owner and NDNA network chair, Liverpool